Technology has always been part of healthcare delivery, and its applications will continue to grow exponentially.

Think virtual visits, automated self-care instructions and smart devices providing drug dosage reminders.

But even as healthcare increasingly relies on technology, we are going to need more humans, not fewer, to provide the care people need.

In fact, technology may end up making healthcare more human.

While routine, time-consuming tasks can increasingly be delivered by machines, it requires health workers with very human skills such as compassion, active listening and problem solving to interact with that technology and to focus on the kind of care only people can deliver. Imagine a nurse never needing to monitor vitals or arrange prescriptions, who is instead free to focus time on providing emotional support and resources to patients and families.

Earlier today, I presented these findings from RBC’s Humans Wanted research on the future of skills at the Home Care and the Future of Aging conference organized by SE Health, a 110-year old community health provider that is leading a conversation on the future of home care.

Our research shows that nursing is one of the most future-proof careers, with just a 0.9% probability of being fully automated. Healthcare jobs require the kinds of skills that are the least likely to be computerized. At the same time, demand for nursing and senior care workers is set to outpace the rest of the Canadian labour market, with 3.4% annual growth until at least 2035. Between 2019 and 2023, Ottawa projects we’ll need 55,000 new healthcare workers a year, for increasingly different jobs.

The more we invest in health tech, the more we need workers who can bridge the gap between technology and patient care.

With more technology and more people, our already strained healthcare system will be under even more pressure to evolve.

According to Dr. Zayna Khayat, SE Health’s Future Strategist, our country needs to step up its game.

“Canada is 15 years behind the rest of the world in healthcare and technology,” Khayat said.

By 2020, as many as 25 million patients in the U.S. may be monitored at home and work with wearable personal devices. If that requires more people to augment the technology and interact with patients, massive productivity gains will be necessary to cope with the demands of our aging population.

It’s not a question of whether humans or machines will provide healthcare in the end, it’s how we invest to ensure they work smarter together.

John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and sits on the boards of Queen’s University, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. His latest book, "Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future", explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.

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